Inconvenient Truth

Cheap excuse to use an X-Files reference? Oh hell yes!

When journalists want to pull people in, they use snappy headlines and selective quotations. But today saw EA come under fire, as is normal, but this time the quotes being used were contextually misleading – claiming something very different overall to the actual point. Truth? Can we handle the truth?

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Snappy headlines and titles are a necessary part of journalism and blogging.

That said, I’d like to think I’m capable of looking beyond a headline and getting to the nub of the issue. This is often quite easy; the gaming media has an inherent and near universal bias against Nintendo, one that stems back over a decade of misleading and at times totally untrue headlines. It’s at times hard to understand why this is, however it is a self-propagating myth that Nintendo are the smallest player in the industry and always “under threat”. Nintendo have huge reserves that rival Sony by some considerable margin, they dominate the handheld space and many of their home console games repeatedly turn up when those very same journalists have to talk about the best games ever made.

Nintendo don’t have to fear the market – but they DO have to fear the journalists, they who dictate and court public opinion in their direction, often influenced by advertisers and those funding their cause. When they are given teases of new game engines, suddenly weaker machines cannot do at all; they MUST encourage us all to want the more expensive, luxury machines at £500+ and that we’d be better off with them. Of course, evidence from the Wii shows us a very different story; where journalists will decry the Wii has been dead for three years, it’s actually still getting games. And in the last year, it’s had some cracking games. And we’ve bought those cracking games. Journalists be damned, those of us who still use our Wii with some regularity (I do) have seen the conflictive and divisive but still gorgeous and well told The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, a fantastic JRPG, and Pandora’s Tower – a surreal but otherwise charming action RPG. Not to mention The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which for me was the best game released last year by some margin. The lack of graphical grunt couldn’t deter me from the art style, the wonderfully – and surprisingly – well done control mechanisms, the story and the general air about it. Zelda games are usually really very very good. Skyward Sword was all the evidence needed that graphics needn’t be HD to enjoy a truly great game.

Inconvenient a truth as it may be, Nintendo aren’t doomed. Actually, all evidence points to the exact opposite. Unlike Sony, where facts and figures paint a very bleak picture right now.

Today, EA were selectively quoted that they were making Dead Space 3 “Less scary” because “people prefer to experience horror with their friends”.

The second part of that was said. The less scary? Not so much.

You see, there was a quote in the full statement; “The horror of Dead Space is still all there. It’s still true to its roots and no less scary, but people felt far more comfortable playing it with someone else than they did doing it on their own.”

That isn’t stating it is less scary, but that co-op is there as an option. And unlike Resident Evil 5, it IS AN OPTION. EA have taken some considerable effort to design not one, but two whole games in this package – one that is paced for solo play and one that comes alive in co-operative play. Neither is set to be any less scary; both will more or less follow the same narrative, just vary somewhat whether you are alone against the odds, or trapped with a friend in the bleak winter hellhole.

Of course, Dead Space 3 isn’t out yet. I can’t state whether it is any good or not. I haven’t played it. But this is EA, where the majority of the hardcore commentators on gaming sights have a real serious grudge against EA and its business practices. This is a fair criticism; under EA, BioWare has lost many workers, and it is becoming somewhat apparent that not all of these are mutually respectful. Origin is a truly dreadful service, an aging and unsuccessful branch of EA that has been dressed up under the guise of an old studio they closed down, a service that requires a client that can rifle through your whole computer and determine if it likes you or not (if it took one look at my games list on Steam it would bitchslap me and walk out in a huff!). There are GOOD REASONS to hate on EA.

But you can’t just make up a reason by selectively quoting them and twisting their words. That cheapens the genuine arguments – the minute you start lying to state a case, your case suddenly doesn’t have any strength to it.

Will Dead Space 3 be less scary? That’s something I will have to experience for myself next year. It’s hard when games aren’t out to tell if they will be any good or not, and even then, there’s massive contentious issues at hand. Like the reaction to the Resident Evil 6 demo.

Technical issues aside (and it had many!), I quite enjoyed it. It lacked the humour and wit that Revelations had this year, and was so evident in Resident Evil 4, but it’s a demo. It might be the game as a whole has something more to it. We’ve played arguably in total an hour or so of a game touted to be closer to 20 hours. We’ve had a taster, of a very early build. It needs work, but then, it’s not out for another six months. I will judge it based on what we get; the demo was a nice distraction, with problems, but it wasn’t terrible. I’ve played a hell of a lot worse.

But the gamer community rallied against it; they don’t like this direction. It’s not “Resident Evil”. I guess like Silent Hill is Silent Hill, huh? No developer has come up with a conclusive argument as to exactly what constitutes a Silent Hill game, all have had very different takes on it. So why not just judge it based on the quality of the final product? Oh wait, that means we don’t have anything to complain about. Damn it. What to do, what to do…

The thing is, we’re so judgmental now that we’re starting to push developers away from us. There’s a real danger that our insistence and conflicting messages are really damaging how games are made; do you make changes for those complaining, knowing they may complain more, or do you stand by your own convictions, knowing they will complain more? How do you address a gaming media made up of gamers who are just as judgmental, if not more so as they try to get hits and traffic and comments to up their advertising revenue? If we don’t support and/or buy games trying different things, if the advertising is not varied and only shows the generic baseline of the market, how can we expect games differing from the norm to sell? Or make any difference?

This leads into last weeks massive destructive wave from the gaming media against Ouya. Many of which made very serious claims of fraud against its very concept. Again, sure it needs time, but if they think they can do it – and are backed by people willing them on – why not support that? What is there to fear from another entrant into the gaming market? This is a serious question. I don’t understand why the gaming media reacted so violently and with such vitriolic bile. The industry needs new entrants to force change or challenge preconceived notions that they have followed for years. They may not succeed, but the market has always enjoyed – and thrived – seeing newcomers try their hand. Why is it now that the console market is a walled-off city?

Why is any of this important? Because money is corrupting a lot of the industry. Because journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but often are so inherently biased it’s almost laughable. Because we, as gamers, are being influenced by the industry and the media towards… something. It’s hard to know what, but if we walk blindly like sheep into it and don’t start asking real questions, the reality is we’re going to end up in a world that is a very expensive, very controlled environment. Like that German camp leader I had back one summer holiday as a child. “YOU WILL HAVE FUN HERE! I ORDER YOU TO HAVE FUN! YOUR PARENTS PAID FOR YOU TO HAVE FUN SO WHEN YOU LEAVE YOU WILL SMILE OR I MAKE YOUR TIME HERE HELL!”

I don’t particularly feel like I want to relive that week of my life, my grandparents were gutted I hated my time at that camp. The warning signs were there; poor hygiene, tents that didn’t stay up, awful facilities, no real trained nurse or first-aid person nearby. But they were told by the leaflets and the strange posh chap who was a cross between a salesman and a PR man that kids loved it, they had a great time and that despite my tendency to faint if I didn’t take my inhalers, they would accommodate me. Which they didn’t. I ended up in hospital.

Point of this memory is what you are told and what you get can be very different things. We know this, we know this instinctively and yet for some reason, as gamers we are shepherded into pigeonholes, we are convinced of what we want and don’t want. New is out, old brands are in, change is bad and risks are an alien concept. Looking in from a distance, this is an AWFUL thing. Truly shocking. And the media does just as much to reinforce and delude us into believing this crap, trying to marry serving their users and the current trends as they are trying to appease a commercial industry that funds their activities through ads and exclusives, and often sends them completely free games, consoles and swag to boot.

Unbiased reporting? No such thing anymore. Not even with the BBC. This wouldn’t be an issue if we were all fully aware of this, and judged games when we’d played them, not because everyone has formed an opinion from ten minutes of footage of an 8-hour experience. But we don’t. Mass consumerism may be easily swayed by advertisements in windows and on TV, but the core gaming crowd are just as easily swayed by their favourite websites – be that the reporting, or the reaction of its users.

The inconvenient truth is; the truth is inconvenient. Being honest doesn’t make money or pull the punters in. Lying through your teeth and making sensationalists headlines – that’ll do the trick. And we’ll bleat the same tired stuff out, and convince ourselves and others out of otherwise perfectly good games in the name of being part of the crowd.

And we fall for it. Even me. Every single time.

Not really something to be proud of, is it?

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